The 2015 Bengals’ season started with a bang, setting a franchise record with eight consecutive wins to begin the season. That run included a thrilling comeback from a 24-7 fourth quarter deficit to beat the defending NFC champion Seahawks, and a big win at Pittsburgh, again overcoming a fourth quarter deficit. The 2015 Bengals’ roster boasted a pair of first team All-Pro selections, and eight Pro Bowl players.
That was great, but that was last year. Free agency happens. The draft happens. Cuts and retirements happen. So we look at the reshaped 2016 Bengals’ roster and ask, is it better, worse, or the same, when compared to their 2015 roster.
The top two quarterbacks are again Andy Dalton and A.J. McCarron. One could argue it is better because McCarron now has experience, or because of the addition of Jeff Driskel, but with the same key components this seems to be the same as 2015.
Running Back: SAME
Like with the quarterback position, the 2016 edition of the Bengals’ roster has the same cast of characters set to carry the ball: Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard. Ryan Hewitt returns as the lead blocker, and Rex Burkhead is back for another season as the deep, deep backup.
Wide Receiver: WORSE
No position seems to have as much turnover as the wide receiver position, and no position carries as much difficulty in determining if they are better, worse, or unchanged. One can argue that Brandon LaFell’s production is comparable to Marvin Jones’, although Jones’ 1,528 yards and 14 touchdowns over the last two seasons are going to be difficult to replace. In training camp and preseason Tyler Boyd has looked much better than Mohamed Sanu, but we really won’t know until the real games start. It’s possible the 2016 Bengals’ wide receivers could be better, but at this point it’s difficult to grade them higher until they prove that, or even the same. For now, they need to be deemer worse.
Tight End: SAME
Tyler Eifert, Tyler Kroft, and C.J. Uzomah repeat their role as the Bengals’ three tight ends. While Eifert may play fewer games than the 13 he player last season (possibly?), Kroft and Uzomah have another year of experience under their belt.
Offensive Line: SAME
Four fifths of the Bengals’ starting offensive line is returning for the 2016 season: Andrew Whitworth, Clint Boling, Russell Bodine and Kevin Zeitler. The only difference is Cedric Ogbuehi replacing Andre Smith at right tackle. The Bengals lose some depth by moving Ogbuehi to a starter role, but were more than ready to move on from Smith. Christian Westerman and Trey Hopkins have shown upside, but are quite unproven. Ogbuehi over Smith could potentially become an upgrade, but with his injury concerns it’s difficult to rate him as an upgrade. If Bodine shows the improvement that fans have frustratingly been waiting for since he was first drafted, this grade could be bumped up, but until then...
Defensive Tackle: SAME
All-Pro Geno Atkins was an unstoppable force last season, and looked primed to offer more of the same this season. Domata Peko is the team’s beloved large body parked next to him. These two starters are unchanged. Backup Brandon Thompson is going to miss the first part of the season, although he only played nine games last year, so that is unchanged. Pat Sims could be in for a “larger” role with preseason standout Deshawn Williams contributing in the backup role. This position remains Atkins plus a bunch of big bodies, and therefore the same.
Defensive End: WORSE
The starters Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson remain unchanged, and that is a good start, as Dunlap is coming off a career best 13.5 sack, and Pro-Bowl season, and Johnson has returned to his pre-Buccaneer form. But the Bengals suffer a loss with their top backup heading to the Lions in free agency. While Wallace Gilberry was far from elite (3.5 total sacks over the past two seasons), he was a step up from Will Clarke and Margus Hunt, who are the current backups on the Bengals’ roster. Hope and pray the starters don’t get hurt.
Vontaze Burfict only played in 10 games last season. If he plays more games this year (which is likely), then that is an upgrade. A.J. Hawk has been replaced by Karlos Dansby, which is another upgrade. And Emmanuel Lamur has been replaced by Nick Vigil, who has been very solid throughout the preseason. Also, the two Rey’s return, Rey Maualuga and Vincent Rey.
When the top five players return from last season to this season, the roster seems rough the same. Starters Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick return as do top backups Darqueze Dennard, Josh Shaw, and Chris Lewis-Harris. If Dennard can stay healthy, a big if, the position could be an upgrade - especially if Kirkpatrick’s contract year boosts his level of play.
Ultimately starting safety Reggie Nelson and his NFL leading eight interceptions left and was replaced by seventh round selection Clayton Fejedelem. That is worse. The other three pieces remain unchanged, George Iloka, Shawn Williams (now a starter), and Derron Smith.
Special Teams: WORSE
Punter Kevin Huber returns for another, which is a good thing. But so does kicker Mike Nugent, was below average last season. Based on his poor preseason, the decision to stick with Nugent could possibly be enough to label the position as worse. But the primary reason for the grade is the loss of special teams ace Cedric Peerman, who was placed on Injured Reserve.
Looking at the Bengals’ 2016 roster there are three positions that are worse than the 2015 roster (wide receiver, defensive end and safety), while only one position has been upgraded (linebacker). Overall, that makes the Bengals’ 2016 roster worse when compared to the roster than finished 12-4 last season, although not by much.
What do you think? Do you agree/disagree? Let us know why!